Alfred Deakin – Fact sheet 211
Prime Minister of Australia 1903–04, 1905–08 and 1909–10
Three times Prime Minister in a politically volatile decade, Alfred Deakin commenced his first term in September 1903, leading the Protectionist government after Edmund Barton’s appointment to the High Court of Australia. Deakin had served previously as Attorney-General in Barton’s inaugural government. He had a notable background in law, journalism and Victorian politics, where he had played a prominent role in the federation of the Commonwealth of Australia.
Deakin served as Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs from 24 September 1903 to 27 April 1904 and from 5 July 1905 to 13 November 1908. He was again Prime Minister – this time leading a Fusion government that comprised the non-Labor parties – from 2 June 1909 to 29 April 1910.
Deakin’s government was instrumental in establishing and strengthening the essential machinery of state. His second term (1905–08) was his most significant, earning him the title ‘the constructor’ as his government dealt with issues including the public service, defence policy and military infrastructure, external affairs, federal financial relations and the High Court. Other important measures included the transfer of the Northern Territory from South Australia to the Commonwealth, establishing Canberra as the federal capital site and amendments to the Judiciary Act and the Immigration Restriction Act. Deakin’s second term, like his first, depended upon Labor Party support, and his government was defeated when disagreements over legislation prompted Labor to withdraw from the alliance.
Deakin remained Leader of the Opposition (and of the Liberal Party he founded in 1909) until ill health forced his resignation in January 1913. He participated little in public life after his retirement, though he did chair the 1914 Royal Commission on Food Supplies and on Trade and Industry During the War and was the Commonwealth’s official representative at the Panama exhibition in 1915.
Alfred Deakin died in Melbourne on 7 October 1919, and was given a state funeral.
Research guide – Our First Six: Guide to the Archives of Australia's Prime Ministers
National Archives holdings relating to Alfred Deakin
The National Archives holds records relating to Alfred Deakin both as a Federation figure and a member of the Commonwealth parliament.
In the table below, reference numbers direct you to the item or series in RecordSearch, the Archives database. There you can find more information. In many cases you can view entire digitised records. The information will appear in a new browser window.